Veteran film and theatre actor Naseeruddin Shah wants regional drama schools to be promoted in preference to mega institutes like the National School of Drama (NSD) that fail to churn out active theatre artists.
Dedh Ishqiya actors Madhuri Dixit, Naseeruddin Shah, Huma Qureshi and director Abhishek Choubey interact with fans in HT House.
Speaking with candour, Naseer, an NSD product and widely considered one of the finest and versatile stage and cinema actors, said "big drama schools" fail to apprise their students of the reality of taking their craft beyond the four walls of the training institutes. In a dog-eat-dog world out there, very few graduates make the cut, he said.
"The vibrant regional theatre needs to be encouraged rather than creating a big institution like NSD with thousand crores of rupees and that does grand productions and makes their students incapable of doing theatre once they leave the place," Naseeruddin told IANS in an interview here.
"That's the tragic fact about NSD...the percentage of students who are actually doing theatre is very small because they are used to that kind of well-subsidised situation. Once they go out and see the reality of the situation they can't do any theatre," he added.
Theatre literacy, according to him, can help regional theatre flourish.
"It (regional theatre) is happening in the south...it is happening in West Bengal as well to an extent ...a little in Lucknow. There are a million myriad forms but none of them can be classified as Indian theatre...there's only regional theatre," he said.
The seasoned actor, known for his characteristic hesitant dialogue delivery, has carved out a niche for himself in both parallel and commercial Indian cinema. His presence in Pakistani films "Khuda Kay Liye" and "Zinda Bhaag" has garnered him much love and adulation across the border.
The film icon's tryst with theatre has also brought him acclaim and it is through this medium that Naseeruddin has forged a "crucial cultural connect" with Pakistan.
The 'Motley Theatre Group' formed by Naseeruddin, Tom Alter and Benjamin Gilani in 1977 has been bringing quality theatre to Lahore, which is currently besieged with a profusion of "only awful Punjabi plays".
"Terrible stuff...which is very very popular among the working class. The gentry do not go either to the theatre or to the cinema in Pakistan...they watch films at home," he said.
He hopes directors in Pakistan will come up with interesting concepts (like "Zinda Bhaag" and "Khuda Kay Liye") and infuse life into the regional film industry crippled by influx of Bollywood films and paucity of their own products.
Closer home, he appreciates films like "Ship of Theseus" (July 2013) but admits audiences do "not really" have much to choose from.
"They need 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag'...because the kind of eyeballs that 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag' can grab, 'Ship of Theseus', despite doing reasonably well, can never attain that cult status.
"And why should it aspire to...the purpose for making 'Ship of Theseus' is different from the purpose for making 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag'...," he said.
However, the growing participation of youngsters in theatre gets Naseeruddin excited.
"It is thrilling to see youngsters in our audiences and there are a lot of young people who are in theatre...trying to do theatre...it is amazing," he said.
But can theatre fetch enough money?
"No they can't (make money) so that's where their integrity is gong to be called into question... their commitment is going to be called into question; so its pointless blaming them for using theatre as a stepping stone. Everybody does that...there's no harm in it.
"You do it to be seen, but then hopefully you find another reason for doing theatre as well," Naseeruddin said.